Casa Blanca, San Juan

Among the many highlights of our whirlwind tour of Old San Juan last week was a circumlocution of "Casa Blanca," the sprawling house built by Spanish explorer (and early governor of the region) Juan Ponce de Leon.
Casa Blanca was built by Juan Ponce de León in 1521, though he never lived in it. He died during an expedition to Florida while the structure was being built. It was, however, the residence of his descendants until the mid-eighteenth century.
Commanding a west-facing promontory and surrounded today by tiered gardens (the gardens were planted by the first American governor of the island in the nineteenth century), Casa Blanca served as the first fortification of the island, mostly protecting its residents from the native Taino.
One of the few disappointments of our visit to San Juan was our inability to enter and tour Casa Blanca, as it was under renovations. But we did the best we could, under the circumstances, walking all around the place until a single museum official told us we had to leave.
I took the photo above in an effort to show how the city wall (closest to the water) and the walls of Casa Blanca formed a double barrier between this enclosure and the sea.

Today, Casa Blance  is a museum of sixteenth- and seventeenth century artifacts managed by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. It is one of the oldest buildings in Puerto Rico and is, of course, a cultural treasure.

El Morro, San Juan

A thirty minute walk from Castillo San Cristobal, which the lovely Robin and I explored together last Saturday, is another breathtaking fortress, El Morro.
Whereas San Cristobal protected the city of San Juan from attack by sea and land, El Morro (with its still-operating lighthouse, above), guarded the entrance to the port of San Juan, a priceless asset.
The photo above shows the entrance to San Juan harbor from El Morro. With cannon on El Morro and also at another fort across the entrance, any ship trying to enter the harbor would be caught in a deadly crossfire. Even today, cruise ships and other vessels that enter the harbor must be guided carefully into the bay.
El Morro (its full name is Castillo San Felipe del Morro) evolved from a promontory with a cannon to a massive six-level fortress that is a masterpiece of military engineering. In the picture below can be seen the "tracks" of the cannon assemblies that once allowed soldiers to move and aim the weapons. The photo also shows the shoreline facing east from El Morro to the ancient cemetery where many of San Juan's dignitaries are buried, the Capitol building, and in the distance, Castillo San Cristobal, the other fortress in the extensive defensive works that once surrounded the city.
It is an amazing thing to see--five hundred years of history, from Christopher Columbus's second voyage in 1493, to the present day. A part of that beautiful island's remarkable heritage.

Castillo San Cristobal, San Juan

Last Saturday, the lovely Robin and I had a great time touring the  majestic and imposing Castillo San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The sprawling fortress was built over a period of 150 years by the Spanish to protect the port and city from attack, thus preserving the lucrative plunder of gold and other exports from the New World.
Built on a hill originally known as the Cerro de la Horca or the Cerro del Quemadero, San Cristobal is the largest European fortification in the Americas. When it was finished in 1783, it covered about twenty-seven acres. It is not only an impressive and imposing sight; it also discloses many of the techniques and tactics of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth-century warfare.
Among the notable features of San Cristobal are the many guerites, or sentry boxes. One of these, below, is known as "the devil's box," or "La Garita del Diablo." Various legends claim that soldiers regularly disappeared from this particular guerite, though local stories tell only of one soldier named Sanchez, who fled his post to escape with his girlfriend. The Devil's Box is inaccessible to visitors; it can only be seen from a distance.
One of the casemates in the fortress is furnished so visitors can see how the troops lived during much of the fort's operational life.
Castillo San Cristobal continued to be used for military purposes through World War II, when various vantage points were fortified and used as lookout posts. Below is the view from one of those. I might have volunteered for that duty.
Perhaps most remarkably, San Cristobal is only one of two major fortifications in the system that protected San Juan until sections were destroyed in 1897 to make room for the city's expansion.

The Streets of Old San Juan

Last Saturday, the lovely Robin and I were so blessed to accompany my brother Don and his wife, Arvilla, on a walking tour of Old San Juan, guided by our friend Jorge Marzan, who grew up in Old San Juan. After parking, we began our adventure at the plaza surrounding the statue of Christopher Columbus.
We saw so much and learned so much. Old San Juan occupies a tiny island off the larger island's north coast, and is connected to the rest of Puerto Rico by three bridges. The explorer Juan Ponce de León is credited with founding the original settlement, Caparra, nearby in 1508, but what is today Old San Juan traces its beginnings to 1509.

The narrow, blue cobblestone streets and flat-roofed brick and stone buildings date to the sixteenth and seventeenth century, when Puerto Rico was a Spanish possession. The facades of the historic buildings are carefully protected by the city, and cannot be demolished.

Old San Juan is a delight to visit, a place throbbing with life and distinction. We loved every minute, and only wish we could have spent more time exploring it.

El Jibarito, Old San Juan

Wow, what a delicious meal the lovely Robin and I enjoyed tonight at El Jibarito Restaurant on Calle del Sol in Old San Juan.

A personal favorite of Jorge Marzan, our gracious guide for the afternoon, El Jibarito provided great service and absolutely deliciously flavorful (enough modifiers for ya?) food.

After a sampler of appetizers, all of which were very good, I had the pork ribs (above). Seasoned and cooked to perfection, and complemented perfectly with the rice and black beans.

Robin's pork with plantain gravy, white rice, and beans was likewise plentiful and satisfying.

The only regret of our visit was that it could happen only least on THIS trip.

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Almagama Restaurant

Last evening, the lovely Robin and I enjoyed a fine meal with six of our newest friends here in Puerto Rico.

The Amalgama Restaurant, in the Wyndham Garden Hotel and Casino at Palmas del Mar, offered a classy and quiet setting for a delicious meal.

The special of the day was Mofongo a la Criolla (a plantain-and-chicken dish with a unique seasoning). It was a first for me, and I was delighted by the experience...and the company.

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Wyndham Garden at Palmas del Mar

I am blessed this week to be able to speak to a fine group of God's people at the Wyndham Garden at Palmas del Mar, in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

In addition to sharing in this experience with the lovely Robin, I am partnering in ministry with my brother Don and his wife, Arvilla.

The Wyndham Garden at Palmas del Mar is a resort and casino, surrounded by a planned community (Palmas del Mar) and golf course (below).

The grounds include a tranquil swimming pool--including a jacuzzi and separate children's pool--right next to the ocean.

Our room, below, has more beds than we need.

And, of course, the long, inviting coastline is...well, long and inviting.

This afternoon we enjoyed a walk on the beach with Don and Arvilla, and some chips and salsa, non-alcoholic drinks, and a lot of catching up with each other in these beautiful surroundings. Refreshing, restorative, and memorable.

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Oh, What a Twelfth Night


May I say to you, "Wow."

I have enjoyed dozens of live theater performances of Shakespeare's plays over the years, and I've seldom been disappointed. But I have never been wowed like I was by Saturday night's performance of Twelfth Night at the Belasco Theater on Broadway.

This “Twelfth Night” is an imported product, from the reconstructed Globe in London. In a setting intended to resemble the Globe, and carefully designed to reflect the way Shakespeare's first audiences would have experienced his plays, this performance couldn't have been more entertaining or enlightening.

The costumes are Elizabethan, each dress the product of ten-to-twenty craftsmen. The music is Elizabethan, played by musician-scholars. The staging is Elizabethan (as far as possible), with facing double-decker galleries on stage. The lighting is--again, as far as possible--Elizabethan, by candlelight. The actors are exclusively male, as Elizabethan actors were. And the frequent interplay between audience and actor is also Elizabethan.

I am often enraptured by performances of Shakespeare's words. But this--this was, to use Viola/Cesario's words, "the nonpareil of beauty." Every performance--from the pitch-perfect Countess Olivia (Mark Rylance) and the delightfully convincing Viola/Cesario (Samuel Barnett) to Olivia's hilarious lady-in-waiting, Maria (Paul Chahidi) and Stephen Frye's portrayal of Malvolio--was unsurpassed. And I've never heard an audience laugh so much at a performance of Shakespeare.

It was an absolute delight. Brilliant. Impressive. Fun and unforgettable.


Carmine's is a popular restaurant in Manhattan's theater district. It is not easy to get a reservation, but because Glenn and Rick made reservations months ago for our Saturday evening meal together, we were able to enjoy this a fine meal together there.

Dishes are served family style, for 4-5 people. We devoured the salad of the day, Chicken Marsala, spaghetti with meatballs, and spinach. Though we had plenty of time before our next showtime, there was just no room for dessert. It was all too good.

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Avenue Q

And now for something completely different...

The third of our four "Broadway Weekend" shows with Glenn and Rick was a show we'd never heard of: Avenue Q.

Turns out this live-actors/puppet combination musical actually beat out Wicked for the Best Musical Tony when it first appeared on Broadway.

Among the highlights of this unique show for me were the songs, "Schadenfreude" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist."

Not for the easily offended, Avenue Q was a light and entertaining show for our Saturday afternoon.

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Iguana Mexican Restaurant

The lovely Robin and I enjoyed a memorable dinner this evening at Iguana Mexican Restaurant on 54th Street in New York, just across the street from our hotel.

Man, the place was hopping as we entered at 6 on a Friday evening. We asked for a table away from the bar, where the conversation was quite loud, and were immediately accommodated.

Robin had the pork lion with wild cranberries and potatoes (below).

I ordered the veggie dish (below) which was quite good.

It couldn't have been more convenient (our theater tonight was also right around the corner), and sent us off to our show satisfied and relaxed.

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Cinderella, The Musical

Tonight's entry in our Broadway weekend is a favorite of the lovely Robin's: the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Cinderella, at The Broadway Theater.

Laura Osnes as Cinderella was radiant. Ann Harada (Charlotte) was hilarious. The costuming was magical. And, of course, the music was delightful.

A fairy tale evening that brought tears to my eyes, and not only because Robin enjoyed it so much.

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I took the A Train, as they say, to spend part of this afternoon with one of my favorite editors...and a good friend (I'd call him my favorite editor but then all the others would get jealous).

We had a great lunch together and then I took the above photo of the nearing-completion Freedom Tower, 1 World Trade Center from the street just outside his office.

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It's the Little Things

It is a pleasure when traveling to enjoy an airline's, restaurant's, or hotel's attention to the little things. Especially when you're away from home, little things can make a big difference.

So I must confess to some appreciation for the Marriott Courtyard Central Park, where the lovely Robin and I are staying this weekend. Though our room is all the way up on the 31st floor (Residence Inn suites begin on the 36th floor), the bank of four elevators all seem to be running on our side of the hotel, which means we never have to wait long.

The shower is one of the best I've ever enjoyed in a hotel (and yes, I do bathe from time to time, even when I'm traveling). Good pressure, flow, and even a temperature control on the handle (see above).

Also, the bedside clock radio provides a port for playing and charging an iPhone, which is always handy.

There are a few other little touches but those should suffice to make the point. Thank you, Marriott Courtyard Central Park.

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